[Sundance] Review: EXTREMELY WICKED, SHOCKINGLY EVIL AND VILE Paints a Picture of the Evil Beneath the Surface of Ted Bundy

The following review is from the Sundance Film Festival.

I will begin by saying I do not agree with the glorification or glamorization of serial killers and they are not to be praised or idolized. I am, however, endlessly intrigued by the psychology behind the motives that drive humans to commit such heinous acts of violence against their fellow humans. When asked, I hesitate to say I enjoy reading, watching, and learning about serial killers, because it is not their despicable crimes that I enjoy hearing about, but rather the harrowing stories of victims who fight to survive, albeit if some succeed and some, sadly do not. I am a lover of stories and simply put, not all stories are pretty, but these stories must be told.

Monsters exist and sometimes those monsters walk among us, disguised behind a charming smile, a seemingly “normal” appearance. If we continue to study the human psyche, the patterns and habits of serial killers; if we continue to share the stories of victims and survivors, maybe we can move toward the extinction of this vile species and the prevention of so many lives lost. I do not enjoy serial killers, but I do enjoy the idea that maybe, by sharing these horrific stories, just maybe some lives may be saved.

Joe Berlinger’s new film Extremely Wicked, Shockingly Evil and Vile does not glorify a serial killer, but it does tell a story of a vicious, manipulative man whose hideous actions affected many lives. To prepare for the film, I read Ann Rule’s The Stranger Beside Me, which documents Ted’s story as well as Ann’s experience as a personal friend of Ted’s. I was pleased to see that Berlinger took very little creative freedom with this story and stuck to the facts. In fact, some scenes and dialogue were direct reenactments of actual footage, which may actually be found in Berlinger’s four part documentary series on Netflix, Conversations with a Killer: The Ted Bundy Tapes, which I have not yet finished.

Zac Efron, who plays Bundy, may have just clocked his best performance to date. Ted Bundy was known for being a master manipulator, he had everyone fooled. He was suave, handsome, and a very good liar. Efron already had the looks, but the young actor did an impeccable job taking on the split-personality of Ted Bundy. It’s chilling, really, and makes you think, do you really ever know someone? Although the film is about Bundy, at its core, it’s really Elizabeth Kloepfer’s (Lily Collins) story, Ted’s longtime girlfriend, whom he nearly married. Ted was arrested multiple times and was known for being an escape artist, fleeing imprisonment twice; once when he jumped from the second story window of an Aspen courthouse after one of his trials, and again when he escaped from prison in Colorado Springs. Elizabeth is who he’d always want to run back to, but as the body count rose, Liz became more and more leery of Ted, wondering if he truly was capable of the horrific crimes for which he was being charged and began distancing herself from him. When Liz finally cut things off with Ted, he was distraught, but not for long as someone soon swooped in to take Liz’s place. Another old friend of Ted’s, Carol Ann Boone was among the many who didn’t believe Ted was guilty.

After reconnecting with Ted, she made it her life’s work to do what she could to save Ted from his imminent fate. She visited Ted regularly and appeared at his trials, even paying off prison guards so the two of them could be alone together. After one of these private encounters, Carol Ann became pregnant and mothered Ted’s only known child. It’s a pretty widely known fact that Ted maintained his innocence up until the day he was put to death by electric chair on January 24, 1989, but there is no doubt that Ted committed the crimes he was charged for and maybe even more. Once, when asked about the suspected death toll that had reached 36 after the brutal murders and attempted murders at the Chi Omega Sorority House in Florida, Ted said to Detective Chapman, played by James Harper in the film, “Add one digit to that and you’ll have it.” (Quote pulled directly fromThe Stranger Beside Me, not the film.)

We may never really know just how many young girls were slain by Ted Bundy, but we must never forget the victims who lost their lives to such a horrible monster. At the end of the film, we are met with some facts about Ted’s last days as well as where Liz and her daughter are now, and we are also left with a list of Ted’s known victims. This is the most important part. When these stories are told, we must never forget the victims, we must speak their names.

After the film ended and the credits began to roll, I heard a woman behind me sarcastically say, “good thing we just humanized that serial killer.” This statement made my blood start to boil and I was moments away from turning around and starting a conversation, but I kept my cool. This infuriated me so because she has completely missed the point. Ted was a human, and that’s what makes this and every other story of its kind so incredibly scary. Serial killers are humans, they walk among us. Ted had a family and people who loved him, although I will argue that the only person Ted loved was himself, and that is why it is so unsettling and uncomfortable to hear these stories.

The lives he affected are forever changed and that is why these stories should be told, to bring justice to the victims and families of the victims, both living and dead. The women Ted murdered or brutally injured were not his only victims; his friends, family, the people he spent time with - their lives are also forever changed and will never be the same because a wolf in sheep’s clothing managed to make his way into their lives. I won’t stop reading these stories or watching these films and I will not apologize for it. These stories need to be told. Joe Berlinger did an incredible job telling an incredibly hard story and the rest of the cast stepped into their roles flawlessly. Zac Efron, Lily Collins, Angela Sarafyan, James Hetfield, Grace Victoria Cox, Jim Parsons, and John Malkovich are just some of the incredible ensemble who helped bring this story to life. From the wonderful performances to the well thought out soundtrack featuring fitting songs of the era like The Box Tops’ “The Letter” and the original score composed by Marco Beltrami and Dennis Smith, the film is fantastic from beginning to end and I plan to see it again up on its theatrical release. It is currently seeking US distribution, but I have no doubt that it will be picked up very soon. As always, as soon as we hear a release date, Ghastly Grinning will be sure you’re the first to know.